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October 2017

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05JUL17: Spiderman: Homecoming, Odeon Leicester Square

Enjoyable and often very funny: I find Spiderman's current incarnation much more interesting than previous versions. Observations include the way that the villain is a better father-figure than Tony Stark; the joy of Captain America motivational films for schools; and the fact that Tom Holland has the best posture of anyone in his school.

Not sure about when it's set: it seems to be eight years after Avengers, but it's also quite soon after Captain America: The Winter Soldier (signs reading 'Triskelion Cleanup'), and it's 2017 given one character's age and date of birth (the latter visible on his driving license).

Am ignorant of comics canon so probably missed a plethora of jokes: bu were plenty of references that I got.

16JUL17: 'The Death of Christopher Marlowe'

A wander around Greenwich and Deptford: we visited Marlowe's memorial in St Nicholas' churchyard, and the approximate site of Eleanor Bull's house, and a pub where we signed the Marlowe memorial book. Niall McDevitt is a poet and psychogeographer: a fascinating host. Key observations: 'Marlowe was the English Agent'; class issues; if killed for his atheism, he was a humanist martyr. An excellent day out despite changeable weather.

19JUL17: blink-182, O2, Greenwich

If you are going to have the letters F, U, C and K in flames at the back of the stage, it really helps if they all flare at the same time.

First gig I've been to lately where the band were younger than me ... It was pretty good, nice bouncy punk-pop, but nothing stood out (I left before the end, though).

20JUL17: Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, Leighton House Museum

After an upbringing in the gloomy Northern European tradition, Alma-Tadema discovered Mediterranean light, and it permeates his pictures, gloriously luminous. Many of the works on show depicted everyday scenes from antiquity: the people (often the same model in several consecutive paintings) weren't important, except as objects on which to drape exquisitely-detailed textiles; what mattered was the grouping, the sense of timelessness to a man playing with a dog or a pair of travellers resting by the roadside.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibition, for me, was the film that showed how Alma-Tadema's work had influenced film-makers for more than a century. Intolerance, The Ten Commandments, Quo Vadis and -- most obviously -- Gladiator all contain scenes modelled after specific paintings.

Leighton House is utterly gorgeous. I was as struck by the rich furnishings and beautiful detail as by the artwork.

21JUL17: Der Freischutz (Weber), Blackheath Community Opera, Blackheath Halls

"Six magic, seven tragic": Max makes a deal with the Devil for some magic bullets so he can marry the Prince's daughter, but bargains with the Devil always have a loophole, and Max might be doomed. But isn't.

Echoes of ritual sacrifice here: Agathe, the heroine, is pierced with a nail, bound in blue bridal ribbons, and given a funeral wreath.

I love Weber's music in this opera. Blackheath Community Opera, featuring a friend, put on a splendid performance with a minimalist set, creative lighting and -- masterstroke -- the casting of a chorus of schoolchildren, resplendent in UV paint, as the devil Samiel. Truly terrifying.

22JUL17: Adventures in Moominland, Royal Festival Hall

I was never a Moominfan as a child, but I'm tempted, now, to read the entire oeuvre. Tove Jansson transmuted bombs to comets, refugee possessions to a suitcase containing a ruby .. the exhibition is a delight in itself, a series of small, cleverly-nested rooms each evoking a different scene, or book, or setting. Night skies, birdsong, a beach, a lakeside tent ... Jansson's lesbianism was neither ignored nor foregrounded: just presented as a matter of fact. The exhibition's been extended to August 20th -- I recommend it.

27JUL17: Dunkirk, Barbican Cinema

Nolan plays tricks with time again (which I didn't really grasp until the end of the film), and the cinematography is beautiful: so is Hans Zimmer's score which keeps the tension high -- as though that were necessary.

Dunkirk focusses on three stories: a group of squaddies trying to get on board a ship, any ship, to England; a civilian boat crewed by a middle-aged man and two boys; and an RAF pilot who's protecting the evacuation fleet.

There are no Germans in the film, and hardly any French. No politicians leaning over maps in Whitehall. (Hardly any women, either, apart from nurses on the ships.) There is no immediate battle, though bombs are dropped on land and sea. More than any other 'war film' I've seen -- and maybe because I've seen so few war films in a well-equipped cinema -- Dunkirk gave me a sense of the terror of aerial bombardment, and the suddenness of it.

It's more about survival than about war. The on-screen tragedies and triumphs are small and human-scaled: the war that has driven the BEF to the beach feels like an implacable natural force. Dunkirk had my complete attention, and my emotional engagement, from start to finish. This isn't entertainment, it's catharsis.

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